Monday, November 18, 2019

Full Steam Ahead!

By Susan Zehnder, Education Director

It’s not about trains, planes or automobiles but all about increasing access and offering opportunities. This Wednesday, November 20th, Community Arts of Elmira along with nine other co-hosts, is having a STEAM Ahead Chemung reception from 3:30 pm -5:00 pm and all are invited. The event will showcase work created by local students from three area youth centers, along with seven cultural institutions and providers. 

 STEAM Ahead Chemung is a program designed to connect students with cultural opportunities, and was inspired by a summer program called Circle of Fire offered by the Rockwell Museum and four other institutions. However, what makes STEAM different is the educational focus, time of year it happens, institutions and providers involved, and the kinds of students who participate.

Instead of happening during the summer, STEAM Ahead Chemung takes place in the afternoons during the school year. The institutions or providers who participate make up the traditional definition of ‘STEAM’ in education. That means we have providers who offer science, technology, engineering, and art-focused programs. Although one switch we’ve made is, instead of the expected math for ‘m,’ we’ve substituted movement and included a yoga instructor.

A busy youth center

Students in our program come from three specific afterschool youth centers. Many have not had opportunities to visit some of our local cultural institutions. Often adults in their lives don’t have the time and or money to visit museums or participate in special activities. One founding goal for STEAM Ahead Chemung is to not only increase access by inviting students in the door, but to hand them the “key” to come back. That key might be finding out what that institution is all about, or how they might fit in. It might include modeling how to act and what to expect when visiting. Hard data shows that if people don’t visit museums as children, they’re less likely to even think about visiting as adults.

STEAM Ahead Chemung is now three years old. Each year it has been generously funded and supported by a grant from the Triangle Fund. While not a large program, it is mighty. Most of the original institutions/providers have continued and each year we’ve been able to adjust things to make a stronger student experience. For example, last year, STEAM visits happened in January and February and we found that weather became an issue, interrupting plans and schedules. This year STEAM visits started in the fall and the number of students participating has grown.

STEAM planning actually starts months before any visits happen. Each year the seven providers get together and agree on an overall theme. The theme acts like glue to connect the students’ experiences as they have different educators visit them or they visit different institutions. This year motion was our chosen theme. 

What does motion look like through the lens of different institutions? At the Arnot Art Museum, one of our partners, the students started by looking at the Crafting Identity exhibit, featuring art which highlights figures in motion. Students then imagined what happened before and after each image, and tried to unpack what stories the artist may be trying to tell. Students learned some of the ways motion can be expressed in two-dimensional artwork, then created their own work, incorporating their favorite form of movement like dancing, swimming, running, etc.

Motion for another provider was very different. Science & Discovery presented ideas about projectiles, and together the students built catapults.

Here at the Chemung Valley History Museum, we had a two-part program. For the first part we visited each youth center, and the second part had the students visiting the museum. For both we used the museum's current exhibit Getting Around: Transportation in Chemung County as inspiration. 

Getting Around: Transportation in Chemung County, a CCHS exhibit up til spring 2020

At the youth centers, we talked about the area's early aviation history. The students created their own paper airplanes, and then tested their skills measuring the distance each plane flew.
Future plane designer

During their visit to the museum, students toured the transportation exhibit, then created simple paper cars using cardboard, tape, pencils, rubber bands and a little tubing. And yes, they really moved.

Paper car

Curious to see more? We hope so.

Enthusiastic STEAMers!

To learn more about this program, and to see additional photos, including a few test flight videos follow @MarktheMammoth on Instagram and check out the STEAM Ahead Chemung facebook page. Wednesday's November 20th reception takes place from 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm at Community Arts of Elmira 413 Lake Street.

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